Helen Vendler is one of those rare scholar-writers who doesn’t adhere to a particular school of theory. In her new book of essays, she explains her view of criticism as distinct from both philosophy and scholarship, as a form of learning that’s inherently “unsystematic and idiosyncratic.” In Open Letters Monthly, Jack Hanson reads through the book. You could also read Jonathan Farmer on Rita Dove’s letter to Vendler.
Kirkus Reviews is launching a new literary prize this year with a hefty purse and an even more eye-catching process. Instead of relying on publishers or judges for a longlist, they'll automatically nominate any book that wins a Kirkus Star—about 10 percent of those reviewed—and award three annual prizes of $50,000 to the best fiction, nonfiction, and young readers' literature. But the big news is that self-published books will also be eligible.
In a New York Times op-ed piece on violence in children's literature, Maria Tatar claims that "the savagery we offer children today is more unforgiving than it once was." Is that really the case? Adam Gidwitz's A Tale Dark And Grimm (reviewed by the Times last November), which underscores the violence inherent in Grimm's tales, can be read as a counterpoint.
Twenty-five years ago this month, Mary Gaitskill published Bad Behavior, a story collection so accomplished that even Michiko Kakutani thought the book had “radar-perfect detail.” Now, to commemorate the anniversary, The Slant interviews Gaitskill, who discusses her debut and the effect of porn on our culture. (In case you didn’t know, a story in Bad Behavior inspired the movie Secretary.)
Anonymous strikes again: On January 25th, the entity that brought us 1996's deliciously scandalous Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics, offers a roman à clef for the Obama age: O: A Presidential Novel. Then it was Joe Klein, but this Anon. is still Anon. Perhaps better than the insider gossip: The media-fueled whodunit the novel's sure to inspire.